We recently ran a workshop with one of our advertisers to get a clear understanding of their commercial objectives for the year ahead.

This is something we do regularly with all of our main advertisers and prospects to ensure we are best placed to deliver solutions based on a clear understanding of their needs. It has allowed us to get further upstream than we have ever been before and develop a close relationship with both the advertiser and the agency.

At this meeting the client outlined a challenge they had in terms of generating sign-ups to a specific service they had launched. Armed with the brief, and a clear understanding of the challenge,  we set about looking at how best we might address the problem.

It became clear to us that in order to present a credible solution for the client we would have to look at filling in some gaps within our own media arsenal. In a world where we are preaching integration and solutions, it has become increasingly important to look beyond our core assets and think of our role as adding value. Irishtimes.com is the largest news site in the Irish market, and The Irish Times has a high value urban readership unrivalled in the market. However, to address this brief we needed to deliver more.

In a media world where it is increasingly difficult to recognise who your competitors are, it has become necessary to think laterally about who we compete with and focus increasingly on collaboration. This notion of “co-opetition,” as I have heard it called, where traditional or perceived competitors come together to provide solutions or products is on the increase.

Notwithstanding the obvious internal navel-gazing and commercial sensitivities, it is my view that the traditional interpretation of who our competitors are needs to change.

Two years ago, Facebook didn’t really exist as a competitor to our advertising revenues. Whatever you may think about the effectiveness of their products, they are now a hot ticket in town for reasons I won’t go into today. At a recent pitch day for the 2011 advertising budget of one of our top 10 customers, the competition included Google and Facebook, neither of whom were even considered the year before.

Anyway, back to the client. In order to offer a solution to their problem, we produced a proposal that included a national radio partner, an online publisher, and a retail partner. While this involved a lot of effort, co-ordination and fresh thinking, it ended up delivering a solution which impressed the client, and offered something unique to address their problem.

I am not advocating this route as a panacea or silver bullet to address the challenges in retaining or growing our share of the advertising budgets. It’s more an illustration of how the path to delivering integrated and innovative solutions will develop and involve more complex relationships which may or may not be viable in the long term.